So yes, if you haven't heard already, Makoto was at the top of Zagat's "best food" list. If you're confused, read here and here and here and here for background on Makoto and its recent honors. We have a lot of places on our list, but jumped Makoto to the front and made a reservation just 24-hours in advance to see what all the fuss was about.

The first course was composed of a bunch of little vegetable dishes and a soup. Cool edamame still in the pod, miso stems that were previously marinated in soy (but were not swimming in it), deep fried eggplant (not battered with anything!), and a teensy glass of room temperature potato miso soup with roast beef in it. The soup was definitely a flavor surprise, and I think I would want a whole bowl of it if it was steaming.

Second was steamed chicken in ginger sauce and a pleasant but forgettable noodle salad with diced cucumbers and red pepper.

Third course was sashimi--Spanish mackerel, tuna, and red snapper

Fourth, fried soft shell crab, the outside made of rice cracker. When life (or a restaurant) gives me lemons, I squeeze them over my food. And it definitely enhanced this dish.

Fifth (and this is subject to disagreement because I can't figure out exactly where this was and don't agree with J's assessment) we had avocado with a spicy miso sauce. The colors were lovely, the avocado was perfect in creamy-smooth-"good fat"-ness, and I definitely wanted more.

Sixth we had a tiny piece of salmon with a lemon sauce, topped with what I think was a mushroom on top.

Seventh was the sushi course, and I loved that the wasabi was built in. Being pretty uncultured in sushi, I hadn't ever ever had nigiri--just maki. I knew about the bamboo rolling mats, the rice, the seaweed, etc, but otherwise was in the sushi dark. Now I have seen the light!

Eighth was yakimono, and we had a choice of 4 dishes. I picked the yellowtail ("lightly flavored with soy sauce") while J picked--no surprises here--the tenderloin beef steak. The yellowtail was on the bone, and looked like something pulled off the grill at an upscale barbecue. It was tasty, but the bone beefed up its size and left me without too much fish. Yes, I had a 10 course meal and am complaining it WASN'T ENOUGH FOOD, but that's because I'm a very hungry person. I think J liked his steak, but I'm sure he fancied the sauce by the way he licked the plate. It was gingery, and I would have done the same.

Ninth was soba, our other "choose your own adventure" and J and I picked wild vegetable and grated yam. I really liked the soba course, the noodles were real buckwheat soba noodles, so far away from the ones in the $5 bowl from Whole Foods to which I add 1.5 cups of water and microwave for 2-3 minutes. At first I was all, this isn't so "yammy," where are the yams? They were the white grated stuff in my soup, I realized. As I drank up toward the end I was surprised how unintrusive the yam flavor was--I guess I'd been having second thoughts, thoughts rife with images of candied yams and marshmallows dipped in chicken soup.

Lastly we had bowls of lemon ice and a very earthy green tea. We enjoyed SECONDS on the tea, because we are a pair of wild kids who know how to lay a night on the town to rest.

We had a very unique experience at Makoto. We wore slippers, I nervously put my purse in the containment box that was my hard wooden seat (Ahh! No access to tissues!), and had a really enjoyable and exciting meal. The food was interesting and very pleasant, but nothing made me say "Whoa, what is this?! It's amazing! I want more now and when I leave I'm going to dream of this for weeks!" Then again, I'm not particularly well-versed in Japanese cuisine. I know I liked what I ate and that the place is an experience. Instead of dinner and a show, your dinner IS the show. The service is excellent--attentive and full of much-needed explanations, and you'll always be informed how you should eat each course (as in, "you can pick up the soup and drink it" instead of allowing you to fumble awkwardly, trying not to embarass yourself because you ARE the youngest people in the room and OMG I'm not sure what that thing on the top right corner is...but I'm gonna eat it). Enter with an open mind is alls I'm sayin.

And ladies, FYI, everyone says "wear clean socks" to Makoto, but girls don't usually WEAR socks when dressed up, and the folks at Makoto provide black peds for all. No need to bring your own socks (don't worry, I quickly tucked them into my purse as soon as I spotted the peds).

4822 Macarthur Blvd NW
Metro: Ehh, drive.
Makoto on Urbanspoon


Endo Sushi

(Yeah, we're sorry we didn't take a picture until we ate almost all the food...it seems we just couldn't wait.)

Endo Sushi is a welcome addition to the greater Clarendon area. I say "greater" because I often forget there's a Clarendon beyond the namesake Boulevard and Wilson, neglecting Washington Boulevard altogether. Maybe if Sawatdee didn't make that Sala Thai so utterly disposable I'd have noticed neighbor Endo Sushi earlier.

I'm not going to pretend that I know a lot about sushi. Besides more obvious egregious errors like funky smell or taste, I can't tell you who has the "freshest" sushi around or whose technique is superior, blah blah blah.

What I do know is that a cup of miso soup and a plate of sushi is often the perfect answer for the inquisitive yet indecisive summer diner. Light enough to save room for dessert, leftovers make a great light lunch the next day, and lastly, maybe most importantly, using chop sticks puts me in a good mood. Sigh, I'm so sophisticated.

If you can allow yourself a wee bit of fried, the veggie tempura appetizer was nice to share. Instantly save calories by allowing your companion to eat most of it, but don't miss the sweet potato. Simplicity being our thing, J got the Combination Roll and I got the Spicy Combination Roll - they were about $10 and $14 respectively. The combos included a little simple salad with the usual ginger-y dressing, a cup of very tasty miso soup, and 18 (!) pieces of sushi. I had 6 of each--spicy tuna, spicy salmon, and spicy Californias. I think J's were tuna, California, and cucumber, but I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong.

Endo wasn't reinventing the wheel, but the place is clean and modern inside and offers an opportunity to be very full (with leftovers) for a reasonable price. It isn't loud inside and service is quick. The appetizer, combinations (2), and two Sapporos totaled ~$42. If you did takeout and skipped the beer and appetizer you'd pretty much be us last Valentine's Day - full wallet and full belly of sushi, enjoyed in the comfort of your own home.

Endo Sushi (Site under construction)
3000 N Washington Blvd
Arlington, VA
703-243-7799 (Why not? The web site doesn't really work yet and I insist you order some takeout) [Editor's note:  I'm seeing this post 1.5 yrs later and the site still doesn't have much on it.]
Metro: Orange Line to Clarendon

Endo Sushi on Urbanspoon


Reliable Source

A reliable source informed me that she and a friend felt sick after eating at Zengo recently. She did some digging, and a handful of other friends reported similar occurrences--first they ate at Zengo, where they enjoyed delicious food, and then they went home and had a bellyache. I wonder how good the food was--was it worth it?

781 7th St NW
Metro: Yellow/Red/Green Lines to Gallery Place/Chinatown


Liberty Tavern...again

Yes, I have tried some new places. No, I can't tell you about them today. We must revisit the Lib Tav, because we just can't stay away. This is just your monthly (or so) reminder that Liberty Tavern is still consistently yummy, unlike some other less acceptable places in the neighborhood

Among other things, J had some crabcake sliders that were cute AND tasty.

I REALLY enjoyed what I billed as "the greenest salad ever." J hesitantly tried it and insisted that he "never knew green could taste this good." I believe it had pistachios, asparagus, chevre, green goddess dressing, and maybe more. What was on it isn't that important; it's not even available anymore, thanks to an ever-changing seasonal menu (that currently includes JOHNNY CAKES!!!!!). What's important is that it was awesome, and as per usual (save the dilemma of Sunday's buffet brunch), Lib Tav has some satisfied (and frequent) customers.

Liberty Tavern
3195 Wilson Blvd
Metro: Orange Line to Clarendon

Liberty Tavern on Urbanspoon


Ray's Hell-Burger

So you read this and then that and collectively almost peed yourself because you could NOT wait to visit Michael Landrum's latest maneuver? Us too!

We DID wait until Thursday, its third day of business, to make our appearance...after all, we don't want to wait on line. We're too cool for that (Disclaimer: We are not too cool for waiting on line at Dairy Godmother, where we have recently done some serious waiting...that's what we get for not checking the CustardCam).

In case you don't already know, Michael Landrum (proprietor of Ray's the Steaks/Bar/Classics) opened a new joint called Ray's Hell-Burger (officially Butcher Burgers, but that's because the government doesn't like H-E-double hockey sticks in a name) a few doors down in the same shopping center as Ray's the Steaks, my favorite stop when I'm seriously craving fluffy blackened salmon and to-die-for mashed tatoes. J tells me we can thank the recession for the recent explosion of new burger places--burgers are cheap, so people who have stopped going out for more expensive dinners will still plunk down $8-15 for a good one. It's kind of like why I've been to Tackle Box 6 times and Citronelle just once.

You can get a bunch of toppings for free (grilled red onions, mushrooms, etc), others for a small fee (avocado, fancy and not-as-fancy cheeses...), and delicious it will be.

All rhyming aside, I loved watching the meat being cut and then grinded/ground (I can't decide) before my eyes. No frozen dehydrated backdoor nonsense there. The burger was huge (they suggest cutting it in half) and delicious, I got it cooked "Recommended." There are no fries, which I consider to be a positive--if you are eating a 10 oz burger, twice the suggested serving of meat for one meal, you do not need any french fries. Eat a vegetable, people. All burgers at Ray's (at least this summer) come with a slice of watermelon and a piece of corn on the cob. My corn could have used another few days to ripen, but I ate it anyway and it was tasty for what it was. Watermelon was good, and the best part was I didn't have to slice it myself. Yes!

We always have great service at Ray's (including complimentary dessert on J's birthday...even though we didn't tell them it was his birthday), and RHB was no different. When Tiny didn't eat half her burger and a staff member asked if she liked it, she honestly replied "no." She ordered medium rare and probably should have gotten medium--it was pretty rare. The staff member gently chided her for not asking them to throw it back on for a few minutes (don't be shy, folks! They've opened the door to it now!) and escorted her to the ice cream area to get a big free waffle cone of her choice. Tiny was sad no longer.

Best thing about Ray's I haven't said yet: Cheerwine (tastes kind of like cherry root beerish...sorta) and root beer on tap (although I'd prefer a larger pitcher)

Worst thing about Ray's I haven't said yet: OK, it's not horrible, but out of all the lovely things I have to say about Ray's, I'll tell you what could be better. A home-made bun. A fresh home-made bun would bring this burger and this place to a new level of fab.

Ray's Hell-Burger aka Butcher Burgers (for the feds)
1725 Wilson Boulevard, or near there (that's officially the RTS address) - there's no sign yet, but if you are facing the shopping center, RHB is almost all the way to the right
Arlington, VA
Metro: Orange Line to Court House, or an uphill walk from Orange or Blue Lines to Rosslyn.


Spider Kelly's - Come As You Are...Or Maybe Don't.

Unlike other places where you need to dress to impress, Spider Kelly's urges you to "come as you are," whether that's in a "t-shirt or tuxedo." Maybe you shouldn't put away your fancy clothes just yet.

I know. It's the first week, give it time, they're learning, blah blah blah. I'll tell you what I thought on opening week, and if you decide to give it a chance and tell me things have improved, so be it. But this is how they are introducing themselves to the (hungry) public.

We arrived and were directed to the couches in the back while we waited for a table. The hostess estimated a 15 minute wait, which ended up being about 30 minutes. We were on comfy couches with beers that eventually showed up, and didn't mind.

When seated, we ordered the pulled chicken flautas as an appetizer, I got the three-day chicken, J the Dr. Pepper pork chop, and a side of grilled cole slaw.

Appetizer, noun: food or drink served usually before a meal to stimulate the appetite. (emphasis added).

We waited a short forever for our food before being served the flautas and entrees at the same time. Our server said something along the lines of "Oh yeah, the kitchen doesn't know which thing is supposed to come out first, so..." So? J said his chop was OK, a little undercooked (sound familiar) but he "wouldn't dare send it back since it would probably take another hour to get it again." My chicken, which was supposedly brined for two days and then hanging with herbs and spices for another before being fire-roasted, was pretty good, but it wasn't rocket science. It was two legs, one had more meat than the other, and there was no indication on the menu of which exact chicken part(s) I'd be receiving. There were no sides on either plate, not even a sprig of something--our meats decided to "come as they are," you could say. The flautas? It would have been better if they had gone the way of the grilled cole slaw, that is, never have come at all. The room temperature chunks of chicken ("pulled?") placed in a sub-par cold and raw flour tortilla on top of watery (and flavorless) green liquid (the alleged "avocado/cilantro cream"). Aren't flautas supposed to be fried, more like taquitos? This dish was reminiscent of the Whole Foods taqueria (RIP, it's since been ripped down for the big renovation), but J says the appetizer was "less appealing" than the WF version. Ouch.

As we waited our second forever of the evening to get our check, I realized I felt a little off. What was it that irked me--the way there's NO beer on tap and we had to pour our own drinks? Was it the blaring 90's soft-rock music, a strange occurrence considering the tiny bar area? The single stall bathroom? The lack of side dish and inedible appetizer, which made us look like we're on Atkins or something?


Twas dehydration. We ate plates of salty meat with no drinks or distractions after our beers disappeared.

As J settled up the bill, a busboy arrived and asked if we wanted water. So THAT'S what those water glasses on our table were for! And it's not like we could have asked our server for a drink or requested our side dish--it was hard enough to find the guy so we could pay and get the heck out of there. I peered around at other tables, it looks like no one got the sides they ordered.

Whole Foods closed at 10:30, but we got in by 10:28 to buy some proper dessert.

Forget the service, or lack thereof. The saddest part is that even though India Curry House, Spider Kelly's predecessor, had way superior food any day of the week, this place will thrive as another mediocre loud American food overflow spot for people who want to mostly drink and do a little eating, and don't want to wait to eat the very decent food at Lib Tav.

Spider Kelly's
3181 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA
Metro: Orange Line to Clarendon


Lebanese Taverna

I'm not sure how I went this long without going to Lebanese Taverna; people mention it a lot, there are multiple locations, and we all know I love Mediterranean cuisine.

Recently we frequented the Pentagon City location. I thought about this article, then reminded my snobby self that everyone has their own idea of how to spell hummus. I don't make the rules at LT.

Here's what we had, and some notes...

The "hommos special" hommos topped with spiced ground meat, pine nuts and almonds, sprinkled with olive oil - fun take on the old favorite, would get again

Shwarma - sliced rotisserie lamb and beef served with tahini sauce - yum, I let J eat most of this because he's more carnivorous

Grape leaves - rolled with rice, chickpeas, tomatoes, mint and parsley - I liked these--again, I prefer my grape leaves to be slightly warm and just-made, and these were a little cooler than room temperature, but J liked that they were not "too salty." Who has been serving this guy salty grape leaves?

R'kakat - phyllo dough shaped like a spring roll, filled with cheese and herbs - Sounds up my alley, I know, and the first one was REALLY DECADENTLY GOOD, with
the thick melty salty cheese after a thin crispy outside, but the second one brought me to the conclusion that it was just toooo salty. ::slurps water::

Shish barak - meat and pine nut dumplings, cooked in yogurt and mint sauce - The sauce was good, the dumpling was ok but nothing spectacular. They didn't seem to go together, even though they literally were together. I didn't really catch a mint flavor, more of a cream/thick alfredo sauce thing going on. This was my least favorite, but it was still edible and tasted like food.

In the carb department, the traditional bread I've come to expect at Lebanese places (Zaytinya, Me Jana) was half-sized! Smaller may be better, but the ones at LT were not as warm/soft/fresh-seeming as their cousins. However, there was a lone whole wheat pita guy in there, so how about that?

Lebanese Taverna

1101 S. Joyce Street
Arlington, VA
Metro: Blue or Yellow Lines to Pentagon City


Boccato Gelato

I’m falling behind, I know. I have news on Corduroy’s new location (and still delicious food), another Liberty Tavern exploit, my first brunch at Vermillion, and others. But I have to say that Boccato Gelato is hands-down THE BEST thing to happen to Courthouse/Clarendon since I moved in two years ago. The Chocolate Hazelnut I had the other night had the smooth creamy goodness texture of a mousse that J ordered a few months ago—a mousse that I lusted over while staring disappointingly at my own choice.

Elisa, a pink flavor that tasted just like vanilla wafers, was among the new flavors we saw last night. I get the sense there will ALWAYS be something new. I tried Rice Pudding, too—it was OK, but not as good as the Chocolate Hazelnut. T had the Basil Lemon, and J2 had Oreo Biscotti. I wish I had the CH with the El Coco (coconut), but for YOUR sake, dear reader, I wanted to try something new.

You almost always get a little cookie with your gelato, and at almost $4 a pop for a small (two scoops, please get two different flavors to maximize your experience), these guys are making a killing. AND they are friendly. AND there seem to be pieces of a future espresso/coffee adventure in their future. Maybe that’s their plan to survive the winter? Cash only, too!

Boccato Gelato
2719 Wilson Blvd (Across from Whole Foods)
Metro: Orange Line to Courthouse
Boccato Gelato & Espresso on Urbanspoon